Britain Pushes Ahead Towards '3-Parent' IVF Baby Treatment

Category: Technology / Jun 28, 2013 2:00PM EDT

Britain is planning to become the first country in the world to offer controversial "three-parent" fertility treatments to families who want to avoid passing on incurable diseases to their children.

The methods, currently only at the research stage in labs across Britain and the United States, would for the first time involve implanting genetically modified embryos into women.

Critics say the technique isn’t ethically sound and could eventually lead to a 'designer baby' market.

It involves intervening in the fertilization process to remove faulty mitochondrial DNA, which can cause inherited conditions such as fatal heart problems, liver failure, brain disorders, blindness and muscular dystrophy.

After a national public consultation showed Britons broadly favor the idea, the government's chief physician said on Friday (June 28) it should be allowed to go ahead under strict regulation.

"It is very important that we take the public with us because this is a new move. But we've done a lot of consultation to date. It was led by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, along with Sciencewise and in general, the public want this. They're content. But we're not going to just suddenly flick a switch and say we're going to do it. We're going to develop some regulations and consult widely on that. And then it'll go to parliament and they'll debate it. So we will only go ahead if the public are with us," Sally Davies, chief medical officer said.

But the director of the Human Genetics Alert campaign group Dr David King said the techniques are ethically unsound and pose unnecessary risks to children.

"Once you cross this crucial ethical line of not genetically altering human beings - which is something that's been agreed by Governments around the world for a long time - once you cross that line, we're inevitably going to end up in that future of designer babies that everybody wants to avoid. That's the first thing. The second thing is that these techniques definitely add extra risk to the children," Dr King said.

The potential treatment is known as three-parent in vitro fertilisation (IVF) because the offspring would have genes from a mother, a father and from a female donor.

Because Britain is in the vanguard of this research, ethical concerns, political decisions and scientific advances here are closely watched around the world - particularly in the United States where scientists are also working on DNA swap techniques.

Video Credit: Reuters